The first few stars glitter above me and I make a wish. One that I hold closely, but know may not come true. The grass is cool beneath my feet as I dig my toes into the rich green. I close my eyes when the cool wind shifts, blowing the warmth of the fire toward me. That short blast of cold followed by warm heat is one of my favorite sensations. 

I love this time of year.

Almost the instant that thought crosses my mind, a burning pain rushes up my arm. The cold breeze initiating the fire that lives beneath my skin. I twitch, but force myself not to react. 

Someone laughs beside me, bringing me back to my friends surrounding the flames. Dee with her wild, curly hair and ivory skin. Chloe, long and lean, her auburn hair pulled back into a ponytail and her long legs stretched out before her. I catch her husband checking her out and snicker.

I lift my arm, shifting it so that it touches as little as possible. The small movement causes a sharp wave to fly from my shoulder to my ring finger; my digits feeling as if they’ve been slammed in a door. I curse and readjust. Two more times and I find a comfortable position. 

I can feel his eyes on me, his worry. I reach out with my other hand and twine my fingers with his. He lifts my hand and kisses my knuckles.

“I’m okay,” I whisper.

“Do you need to head back?”

I shake my head. “It’s nice hanging out, it’s distracting. I can last a bit longer.” 

I look to my right and listen as Chloe tells us a story. Her face is radiant as she regales us with our adventure down the side of the cliff, the promise of a waterfall like none other our goal.

Its been days, weeks, since I could breath normally. Since I wasn’t trying to fight the urge to run away. That sense that something is attacking me just won’t leave. My heart rate picks up as the wind shifts again making the arm light up. I suck in a breath and release it slowly. I want to pull away, to hide, but I know there is nowhere to go. What’s happening to me is not something I can run from. 

“That was one of the best trips we have ever taken,” I say, pretending as if there weren’t a torch burning my skin. Pretending as if I were really part of the group and this moment with them. “It may have been one of the hardest hikes, but man was it worth it.”

“The waterfalls were amazing,” Dee agrees.

“I just can’t believe the campsite we found.” Chloe says. “It…”

And I zone out again. I love the stories, the memories we all share, but right now my entire being is focused elsewhere. I hate this feeling. Yes, the pain sucks, but it’s the inability to focus on the world around me that hurts deep in my soul. My family, my friends – my life – deserve my attention and yet I can barely track their words. 

And yet I smile when everyone else does. 

The world fades further as the grief and frustration sinks in. I don’t want to hurt those that matter to me. I lean back into my chair, that dark sense of despair pulling me down. 

No, I will not let it. 

The kids run past – a streak of color and laughter. We all turn to watch as they catch their prey, tackling the poor kid to the ground and tickling him. A scream is followed by a string of full belly laughs as the rest of the mob descend upon him.  

Every single person around the fire grins at the spectacle. This is why we live here. This is the bond we all share. For them – those evil little creatures we call children – for them alone do we live everyday striving for happiness.

My beautiful boy wiggles free and runs for us. He climbs into my lap, me – the protection from his friends. I grunt, but pull him closer. His head rests just under my chin and I kiss his forehead.

“You can’t get me now!” he taunts, and I laugh.

“Careful what you say or I’ll let them take you,” I say. 

“You wouldn’t.” He glares at me. 

Playfully, I glare back. He smiles then laughs as the others turn to a new target and the screams begin again.

“You feeling okay, Mommy?”

“I’ll be fine baby. Go play.”

“In just a minute.” He wraps his small arms around my waist and hugs me tight. I pull my arm away so that he can’t accidentally hit it. I clench my teeth. He notices, but doesn’t say anything. He just hugs me tighter. I hold him, pressing my face to his hair.

“I love you, boy.”

“I love you too.” He slips from me and returns to his friends.

I scan the group, conversation picking up again. My eyes land on the man who sits next to me; the man who loves and protects me. 

“We’re so very lucky,” I say, tears stinging my eyes.

He nods, leans in to kiss my cheek, once again entwining my fingers with his.

“Everything will be fine.”

I release the breath I didn’t know I was holding and look up to the sky. I swallow, the lump in my throat thick with fear. It has been there, weighing me down, for far longer than I want to admit. I find the star I wished upon only minutes ago and repeat the prayer, adding just a little. 

I wish this never happened. No…

I wish I was healthy again. I wish that we figure this out and I recover quickly. Please help me, for the sake of my children, my heart, and my soul.

Hearing my name, I’m pulled back into the conversation. “Do you remember when we all tried to jump off the waterfall at the same time?”

I chuckle. “Yeah. We couldn’t get the timing right. We are hopeless.” They all laugh. 

“Remember the rope swing? I nearly face planted in the water,” Dee asks, and I find myself grateful for the small moments which give us light. Even when the world seems determined to pull us under.

Published on OBW Blog November 27, 2020 © Tracey Canole   

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